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Dan Conradt: Vast night sky helps put problems in perspective

It was 11 o'clock, and the house was quiet.

A quiet house is good for contemplation, but my mind was cluttered, and I needed something bigger than the living room to help clear it.

I dug a canvas folding chair out of the trunk of the car. The chair hadn't been used since it went into the trunk at the end of a Little League baseball game last July; the good guys won a pitcher's duel, 17-14.

Ordinarily I can clear my mind without the help of a chair; a dry patch of grass is usually sufficient. But on this night it was ten degrees above zero, and I opted for the chair: I believe it's possible to calm your mind and be comfortable at the same time.

I carried the chair into the back yard and unfolded it in the shadow of the house, shielded from the few yard lights that were still burning in the neighborhood.


I pulled the hood of my parka up over my head and pulled the drawstring. It was like looking through a fur-lined snorkel, but at least I was warm.

The night was perfectly still, which amplified its sounds. Somewhere in the distance, car tires hummed on the highway. A dog barked, and a door slammed.

I closed my eyes to help them adjust. It's a process that usually takes two or three minutes, and I've been known to fall asleep in that time.

Not tonight.

My mind started to clear as soon as I opened my eyes.

The night sky has a way of doing that to me.

The cold had removed the day's moisture from the air, and the sky sparkled with pinpoints of light. There could be 400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and they were all out tonight.

The half-dozen stars I could identify by name were like diamonds on black velvet. Sirius was glowing in the south, and Capella was a beacon nearly straight overhead. I found Castor and Pollux and Aldebaran. Polaris anchored the end of the Little Dipper's handle in the northern sky, just where it belonged.


My leaky kitchen faucet suddenly didn't seem like such a big deal.

A jet airliner inched its way across the sky. It seemed like an intruder.

The Andromeda Galaxy was a faint smudge in the northwest sky. The light that I was seeing had left Andromeda two and a half million years ago.

I knew then that my schedule for the next day, which looked impossible on paper, would work itself out.

Time is one of those rare things that is both limited and limitless.

The Seven Sisters hung in a blue cluster to the west, and to the south three bright stars formed Orion's Belt. In a couple of months, winter's most famous constellation would be gone, hidden beneath the horizon as the earth continued it's year-long move around the sun. Next winter, The Hunter will be back. Like spotting the season's first robin, the first Orion sighting is an event to celebrate. There's something comforting in routine.

Maybe I won't have to take out a second mortgage to pay next month's utility bill after all. Even if I do, at least I'll be warm.

Life is about perspective.


It was just before midnight when I crawled into bed. My feet were cold, but for the first time that day my mind was calm.

Sleep came within minutes, but before it did I was reminded again that I spend too much time sweating the small stuff.

And if you spend an hour under the night sky, you realize that nearly all of it is small stuff.

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